?Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has admitted that his long-term attachment to Los Blancos means that he is unlikely to ever consider a move to manage Barcelona.
?Asked ahead of his 100th game in charge of the reigning Spanish and European champions whether he would some day consider coaching their Clasico rivals, Zidane hailed his ‘white heart’ and dismissed the suggestions out of hand.
“I’ve got my white heart and I’m not going to change,” he said. “Many have asked me to be in another place and it’s not for me, I’m here. I’m only thinking about what I’m doing at the moment and, with respect, nothing else.”
Speaking about the milestone he will hit on Saturday at the Bernabeu against Getafe, he said: “I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that you must take advantage of things and you must do that by working hard every single day you are here.
“The most beautiful moment for me so far here has been winning La Liga. You fight for that every day, it is a tremendously difficult thing to do and winning it is the ultimate feeling.”
He also refused to be drawn into speculating on Saturday night’s big game in La Liga, with Barcelona travelling to the Wanda Metropolitano to face Atletico in the season’s first meeting of two of the league’s big three clubs.
Zidane, whose Real side sit seven points behind leaders Barcelona, said: “I’m focused on beating Getafe, and whatever happens [between Atletico and Barca], happens. I’m not after any result in particular; we’re just concentrating on closing the gap.”
After an eventful, exhausting international break, La Liga returns with one of Spain’s most mouthwatering fixtures on Saturday – Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona.
This represents the sternest test of the season so far for Ernesto Valverde’s high-flying side, and it offers Los Colchoneros an opportunity to close the increasingly wide gap at the top.
Both sides have a plethora of talented players – though they play in very different styles – and a moment of quality could be what decides the clash at Wanda Metropolitano. Here’s a combined XI of players from the two sides.
11. GK: Jan Oblak
Atletico’s Slovenian shot-stopper has established himself as undoubtedly one of Europe’s best in recent years.
An imposing figure in goal, his presence has been a major factor in the club’s notoriously impermeable defence. Few goalkeepers are as well-rounded or as consistent as Oblak, and few would beat him into the starting lineup of any side.
Unfortunately for Marc-André ter Stegen, he is not quite at the level of his opposite number on this occasion.
10. RB: Sergi Roberto
Though some have expressed doubts over Sergi Roberto’s effectiveness as an out-and-out full-back, there can be little question over his dependability.
Naturally a midfield player, the 25-year-old has had to play at right-back since the departure of Dani Alves, and he has done so commendably.
This season, Nelson Semedo has been brought in to offer a challenge, and has impressed so far, but Roberto remains a solid option at right-back. Atletico, meanwhile, have had issues in the position, with Juanfran beginning to decline and Šime Vrsaljko yet to full establish himself.
9. CB: Gerard Piqué
Few teams would not be improved by the calming presence of Gerard Piqué, a defender who has aged like a fine wine.
The 30-year-old has been a staple of the successful Barcelona teams of recent years, and remains an integral part of their team. Piqué is almost a representative of the club, the unflappable leader who orchestrates things at the back.
Without him, Barcelona would likely be significantly less confident of leaving Madrid on Saturday with a victory.
8. CB: Diego Godín
Some consider Diego Godin the world’s best centre-back; if he’s not, then he’s certainly amongst the candidates.
The Uruguayan has built a reputation as an unscrupulous, rugged defender, with little concern but for keeping the ball out of his side’s net. But he is also a leader, a motivator and occasional goalscorer.
“Nothing thrills me less than playing against Atlético,” Luis Suarez once said. “They’re so annoying and Godín is a nuisance; he’s always there next to me, he never leaves me alone.”
7. LB: Filipe Luís
Filipe Luís has been excellent since his return to Atletico, having departed in 2014 for one season with Chelsea.
Not many left-backs can boast defensive and offensive attributes as complete as the Brazilian, and not many perform at such a consistently high level.
Atletico will need him to be at his best in both areas of the pitch if they are to inflict a first defeat of the season on Barcelona.
6. CM: Koke
When Koke signed a five-year contract extension with Atletico in May, it was met with understandable delight from supporters of the club.
The 25-year-old has epitomised the rise to prominence of Diego Simeone’s side in recent years, tenacious and combative in midfield. But he adds an all import technical quality, a guile that can help unlock defences or produce a moment of individual brilliance.
He is essential to Atletico, and one of La Liga’s most intelligent midfield players.
5. CM: Sergio Busquets
To leave Sergio Busquets out of any team would be scandalous, such is his simplistic brilliance, his uniquely perceptive ability to read the game.
The midfielder has never been spectacular, he has never been attracted to the headlines. He simply does his job, impeccably, but often in the background, away from the free-flowing, exciting attacking play associated with Barcelona.
Some have undervalued his contribution, but those that understand the game hold him in the highest regard. “Busquets is the best defensive central midfielder in the world,” Pep Guardiola once said, and it’s hard to disagree.
4. CM: Andrés Iniesta
He may be 33 and no longer in his prime, but he is still Andrés Iniesta.
While he may have lost some pace, his mind has been unaffected by age, as has his superior technique. And Ernesto Valverde seems confident in Iniesta’s ability to start games without the need for a prolonged rest.
He is still very much capable of dictating the outcome of a big game.
3. RW: Lionel Messi
Who else? The Argentine has now hit his 30s, but his prolific goalscoring has not ceased. In fact, it appears it could be getting more ludicrously impressive.
Messi has scored 11 goals in seven La Liga appearances this season, two in two Champions League games, and on Tuesday night bagged a crucial hat-trick for Argentina to send them through to the World Cup.
Atletico will be even more wary him than usual, then.
2. ST: Luis Suárez
Luis Suárez has had a difficult start to the season, and has at times looked a frustrated figure in a Barcelona shirt. But a dip in form should not take away from the Uruguayan’s fully deserved status as one of the game’s best strikers.
He will likely find his feet again soon, a scary thought for the defenders that have to face both he and Messi at the top of their game.
1. LW: Antoine Griezmann
The Frenchman completes what would be a very tasty front three.
Griezmann, like Suárez, has not scored as many as he would have liked so far this campaign, although that is in part due to the three game ban he picked up earlier in the season.
But he is still very much Atletico’s focal point, the player they will look towards for inspiration against a confident Barcelona side on Saturday.
?Barcelona could be set to offload three first-team players in January, including Andre Gomes, with boss
However, Barcelona were reluctant to offload their misfit, after failing to secure his planned replacement in the shape of
The 24-year-old striker is another one who seems to be out of favour under
The unwanted duo are expect to be joined by Turkish attacking midfielder Arda Turan, who is also tipped to depart the Spanish east coast in the New Year.
This could be Javier Mascherano’s final season at Barcelona. At the age of 33, the midfielder has decided to wait until next summer to consider his career options.
The Argentine has expressed his doubts on his future with the Catalans in an interview with TyC Sports (via Mirror Online), where he declared he was no longer ready for a commitment.
He said: “
Mascherano has been a key player for Barcelona ever since 2010. In his seven years with the Catalans, he has won four La Liga titles, four Copa Del Rey trophies and lifted two Premier League cups.
These words come shortly after he announced his official and definitive retirement from his national duty with Argentine: the 33-year-old will stop wearing the blue and white jersey after the 2018 Russia World Cup.
Despite playing a crucial role in leading his side to qualify for the competition, Mascherano has made only five La Liga appearances this season and could be ready to leave his place to someone younger.
As the international break comes to a close, why not take a look at some of the players currently plying their trade in Europe’s top divisions who have been capped a monumental amount of times by their nation.
Most of the players below are still active internationally, meaning they could further enhance their appearance record for their countries and cement their status as a national hero.
9. Lionel Messi – FC Barcelona & Argentina
The four time Ballon d’Or winner has amassed 122 caps for La Albiceleste since making his debut way back in 2005, and is also his country’s record scorer in that time with 61 goals.
He failed to score against Peru last Friday, but single handedly took his country to the World Cup with a scintillating hat-trick against Ecuador on Tuesday night.
It speaks volumes of Messi’s importance to the national team that the Barcelona maestro is the only player to score a competitive goal for Argentina in the last 11 months, and the population of the south American nation will hope he can carry them just as effectively in Russia next summer.
8. Andres Iniesta – FC Barcelona & Spain
The 33-year-old playmaker has been an exceptional servant for club and country since coming through La Masia, debuting for the club at just 18 and making his international debut aged 22.
Iniesta has earned 121 caps for La Furia Roja, famously scoring the World Cup winning goal against the Netherlands after extra time in 2010, but has been unable to add to his extraordinary cap tally this international break as he has been suffering with injury.
7. Petr Cech – Arsenal & Czech Republic
The Arsenal stopper is the most capped player in his country’s history with 124 appearances for the Czech Republic national team, although he announced his retirement from international football back in 2016.
The 35-year-old has won the Czech Football of the Year award nine times and is arguably the most famous player to ever come out of his nation, whilst also winning numerous titles whilst at Chelsea and Arsenal.
6. Wesley Sneijder – OG Nice & Holland
Sneijder is one of the most famous players to ever play for the Netherlands, and currently sits on 132 caps for the senior team, scoring 31 goals for his country.
The 33-year-old is still internationally active, and is perhaps the player with the most experience and pedigree in a youthful Dutch side having been shortlisted for the FIFA Ballon d’Or award in 2010, although he failed to inspire his country to World Cup qualification.
He is currently the record cap holder for the Netherlands, surpassing Edwin van der Sar’s record that stood for 4,002 days.
5. Javier Mascherano – FC Barcelona & Argentina
The 33-year-old has made 139 appearances for Argentina since debuting back in 2001, scoring a grand total of three goals as his versatility saw him operate at centre back and defensive midfield for his country.
Mascherano started last Friday night’s game against Peru, adding further to his many caps for La Albiceleste, and played a key role as Argentina beat Ecuador 3-1 to secure their place in Russia, although he surprisingly failed to add to his vast goals…
4. Sergio Ramos – Real Madrid & Spain
The Sevilla academy graduate has become one of the best defenders in history for both club and country since debuting for the Spanish side in 2004.
Ramos has already amassed a staggering 147 caps for La Furia Roja since debuting at just 18-years-old, and at just 31 years of age he is certain to further extend that tally.
His impressive goalscoring exploits have seen him score 11 goals for his country, whilst notching a further 72 in his club career.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid & Portugal
The 32-year-old has become his country’s all time top scorer with 79 goals, and in the process overcoming Pele to become the joint fifth top international scorer in history.
Ronaldo led his country to EURO 2016 glory to secure his first international success, and will surely extend his record to unreachable numbers during the remainder of his career.
2. Iker Casillas – FC Porto & Spain
Spain’s all time record cap holder was a key figure in arguably his country’s golden period, holding down the number one spot over the course of La Furia Roja’s EURO 2008, World Cup 2010 and EURO 2012 successes.
Casillas won the Golden Glove for his efforts in the 2010 World Cup tournament, and one of his saves against South Korea during the 2002 World Cup was voted in the top ten saves of all time by FIFA.
1. Gianluigi Buffon – Juventus & Italy
The Italy and Juventus legend is still active both internationally and at club level at the age of 39, and will undoubtedly make his cap record for the Italian national team unreachable when he eventually retires.
Buffon is the second most appeared captain for Italy with 77 caps since earning the armband in 2008, and was instrumental in his country’s 2006 World Cup victory beating France in the final, setting a World Cup record in the process by keeping five clean sheet and conceding just two goals in seven games.